The Los Angeles Times brought together an accomplished group of lead actresses recently from some of the year’s most acclaimed films.
Annette Bening in “20th Century Women,” directed by Mike Mills, plays a single mother raising her son in 1979 Santa Barbara. Amy Adams in “Arrival,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a linguist attempting to communicate with alien beings, with an emotional twist. Emma Stone in the musical “La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle, plays an aspiring actress struggling in L.A. with both her career and her relationship. Natalie Portman in “Jackie,” directed by Pablo Larrain, plays Jackie Kennedy in the period just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And Ruth Negga in the true story of “Loving,” directed by Jeff Nichols, plays Mildred Loving, who along with her husband were part of a court case that smashed a Virginia ban on interracial marriages.
Here are highlights from our conversation.
Stone: When we were about to do our big duet on the hill, which we’d at this point rehearsed for like four months, it’s so technical if you’re not a dancer-dancer that my face would be twisted up and, you know, like Ryan’s really thinking. And there came a point where (choreographer Mandy Moore) said, “It honestly does not matter what you do. I need to see the joy in your face. I need you to be Mia and let her just completely unfold in your face. Because if you mess up (the steps), no one’s gonna care. It’s all gonna come alive right there.” So that was a really great moment for me to kind of throw the technique of something that I wasn’t by any means an expert at out the window at a certain point and really just kind of be present.
Q: Amy, what would you say was the toughest scene for you to nail down?
Adams: I had to learn like four lines of Mandarin. I’m like, “Two weeks is fine,” and oh my goodness was I struggling. It was the only time I had a total – Denis who’s the most calm director, he and I had one little moment where he’s like, “You must be calm.” And I’m like, (speaks Chinese) trying what I can. He’s like, “Amy, seriously.”
Q: Annette, your performance has this unforced, organic quality; you seem very at ease in the role. Do you find that what you value in a performance, the things you’re sort of looking to achieve, has that changed for you over time?
Bening: I think it is an ongoing search, that’s why I love it. Because there is no rival and I’m just as intrigued as I always was by the craft and that first time you all get together in the room and you get to read. I found myself with (costars) Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, I was watching them and I was thinking, “I want to be like them. They’re amazing.” Really great young actors, they’re intuitively doing it and it’s like I need a piece of that back, the simplicity of someone who’s starting out, who doesn’t have a lot of baggage and they’re just responding and doing it.
Q: Emma, your character has that hunger but she faces lots of rejection early on. Was it easy to remember what it was like starting out?
Stone: Definitely. I moved to L.A. when I was 15 to start auditioning and that came with a lot of rejection. Ryan and I were both sharing stories of horrible auditions with Damien that he could maybe put in the movie. The scene with the phone happened to Ryan. He was in the middle of an audition and he was crying and the director’s phone rang and the casting director picked up in the middle of Ryan crying. But the biggest thing that I still feel is when you’re not getting auditions, when no one’s taking a chance on you. For me, getting the opportunity to be rejected or fail is infinitely better than nobody wanting to see you.
Q: Natalie, Jackie’s an iconic person, what was that like for you to sort of tune out all that you’ve seen before or even just putting on that pink Chanel suit and finding her voice.
Portman: I was lucky that I hadn’t seen anything before mainly because I have major gaps in my cultural education. But I hadn’t seen any other portrayals, which of course then I wasn’t going to seek out because you don’t want to be imitating, you want to do your thing. The clothes in this, it’s been a little bit upsetting because so many people are like, “Tell us about Jackie’s fashion.” It’s the days after the assassination – it’s not a fashion story! But the clothes had a symbolism. And of course we know the pink suit so well that before the assassination it has this sense of foreboding and then afterwards of course it is really just such a sign of her presence of mind in that moment that she refused to change. She said, “Everyone needs to see.” She was aware that the image of the blood and the brains of her husband covering her suit was going to make an impact on everyone. Even though what could be more gory and you must want to just get out of it, but she kept it on all day and took all the pictures and through the inauguration of (Lyndon) Johnson and everything, wore that. So it was like wearing a story, putting it on.
Q: “Arrival’s” just opening and already it seems like people are finding different ways to respond to it. They’re seeing it now as being about how people communicate and finding ways to connect with one another. Is that surprising to you?
Adams: From a year ago when we made it, we never set out … at least that wasn’t communicated to me at the time we were making it, that it had this geopolitical overtone to it. I mean, it definitely did, but the world has changed so much even in a year that it’s amazing how much more relevant the film is and how it feels more intentional now. I’m happy that it is touching people in that way. I mean, that was one of the things that frustrated my character so much is like we’re so quick to jump to what someone else’s intention is without really listening to them. I think it’s the only way we’re really gonna grow.
©2016 Los Angeles Times
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